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Auto vs Manual Lenses in Camera Scanning of Film


When it comes to scanning film with a camera, the choice between using auto or manual lenses can significantly impact the quality and efficiency of your scans and workflow. Many digital shooters who already own a macro lens, often used for portraits or product photography, begin their camera scanning journey with these modern, automatic macros. While these lenses may not always offer true 1:1 magnification (often 1:2), they can be adapted with the right equipment to achieve higher magnification. As they delve deeper into camera scanning, some choose to upgrade to more specialised lenses. On the other hand, many analog shooters who exclusively use film may not possess any digital equipment. They often utilise vintage macros they already own or can easily find on the second-hand market. These older lenses, as well as some modern ones, lack autofocus. The decision between auto and manual lenses ultimately depends on your specific needs and goals for your workflow. In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and considerations of both options.


Scanning film with a camera demands precise focusing to achieve the sharpest possible scans. When shooting film, achieving accurate focus in-camera is crucial but can be challenging, depending on the shooting conditions and equipment used. Many beginners, especially those using manual focus medium format cameras, struggle with focusing correctly, leading to soft images. Unfortunately, there's no remedy for images that are out of focus on the negative. Conversely, achieving sharp captures is possible, only to lose their crispness in the scanning process. Therefore, it's essential to be equally dedicated to ensuring focus during the digitisation process as you are during the initial capture. In this section, we'll explore tips and techniques for achieving precise focus with both manual and automatic lenses.



When focusing, either automatically or manually, it's not necessary to refocus for each frame. If your system is stable, you can focus at the beginning of the roll and complete the entire roll, checking focus for the next roll. Some people perform spot checks a few times throughout the session as a precaution. However, if a loss of sharpness is noticed in your scans, you may need to reconsider your focusing strategy.


When does Auto Focus hit the mark?

Modern auto lenses designed for specific camera systems offer the convenience of quick and accurate automatic focusing. While auto focus is generally precise, it’s crucial to always double-check the focus before scanning. Binding the focus magnification function to a button on your camera can help ensure precise focusing. Auto focus can be useful for quickly framing and focusing on straightforward negatives. However, challenging negatives may cause the camera to struggle, requiring manual intervention. Switching to a wide-area focus mode can sometimes alleviate these issues. In conclusion, you should always double check the auto-focus and you might have to intervene using manual focus on some negatives.


Is Manual Focus always better?

Focusing manually can be challenging, especially with strong shaking or unstable copy stands. Older lenses with stiff focusing rings may require re-greasing, which can be costly if done properly, or risky if not done by a qualified technician. For improved precision in manual focusing, consider using a copy stand that minimises vibration and a modern mirrorless camera with enhanced preview capabilities. Binding the focus magnification function to a button on your camera can also increase manual focusing accuracy. If you possess a modern digital body and macro lens, manual focus is still viable and even easier with focus peaking enabled. Many prefer this method as it combines the benefits of advanced coatings and optics with the control of a manual lens. Adapting older manual lenses to new cameras rarely provides auto focus functionality. Therefore, using manual lenses with adapters is more common for those seeking the vintage look or working with legacy glass. In conclusion, manual focus can be good when done right, and you will always be fully in control making it unlikely that you will unknowingly end up with out of focus scans.


In short, auto lenses offer convenience and speed, while manual lenses provide greater control and precision. Finding the right balance is key to achieving high-quality scans. The choice between auto and manual lenses for scanning film with a camera depends on your preferences and the specific challenges you encounter. Experimenting with both options can help you find the best approach for your scanning workflow.

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